Sexual abuse charges at Jesuit schools shock Germany

February 2, 2010

Germany’s leading Jesuit official has apologised for a growing number of sexual abuse cases at Jesuit high schools that have come to light recently. School officials there had failed to respond properly when they first heard of the allegations years ago, Father Stefan Dartmann, the head of Germany’s Jesuit order, said.

Dartmann said he knew of 25 former pupils who said they had been abused at presitgious Jesuit schools between 1975 and 1984 — 20 at the  Canisius Kolleg in Berlin, 3 at the  Hamburger St. Ansgar Schule in Hamburg and 2 at the Kolleg St. Blasien in St. Blasien in the Black Forest.

Berlin's Jesuit Canisius Kolleg

Berlin's Jesuit Canisius Kolleg

German media reported the first cases last week but the number of alleged victims has been growing and the possibility of a wider scandal looms.  “I’m worried that a storm is going to break out now,” said the former director of Kolleg St. Blasien, Father Hans Joachim Martin.

Any scandal like this is big news, but it is even bigger in Germany because, in marked contrast to other countries like the United States and Ireland, little abuse is known to have taken place in Germany’s Roman Catholic Church.

Dartmann, who said the reports of abuse had been received by Germany’s Jesuit order as early as 1981, was quoted as saying he was ashamed nothing had been done. He admitted that Father Klaus Mertes, director of the Canisius Kolleg, had first informed him about the problem in 2006. “At the time, the victims asked for complete discretion,” he said in a statement. “Now that some victims have come forward, an investigation to uncover those cases of abuse fully is now possible and necessary.” He also apologised that those responsible at the time did not react in the way that was required.

Mertes raised the issue last week and has written to old pupils to find out the extent of alleged abuse after several people came forward to say they had suffered abuse in the 1970s and 1980s. He said there had been “hidden hints” about abuse as early as 1981, when former pupils wrote a letter criticising sex education at the school.

A long interview with Mertes has just appeared on the website of the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel. He said he had heard rumours for about 15 years but never found any proof. A former pupil finally spoke with him about the charges four years ago, and much more information came out in conversations with others in December and January. Part of the reason for the silence about cases at Canisius Kolleg was the “myth” of the elite school that surrounded it, he said.

The allegations have been focused on two former teachers — one who had taught sports and the other religious studies.

It seems no prosecutions will be possible in Germany due to the statute of limitations. But the Catholic Church could still take some kind of action. After the full extent of clerical sexual abuse in the Irish Church was exposed, bishops resigned and Pope Benedict summoned all Irish bishops to the Vatican. Will any German Church or Jesuit officials be next?

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